A constitutional amendment restoring to the states and Congress the authority to ban desecration of the American flag was sent to the full House on Wednesday.
The House Judiciary Committee approved the amendment on a party-line vote of 18 to 12. It would override a 1989 Supreme Court ruling that threw out state laws prohibiting flag burning and other acts of desecration, saying they violated First Amendment guarantees of freedom of expression.
Democrats on the committee, who unanimously opposed the measure, echoed that concern.
"We're going to the heart and soul of the right of the freedom of expression as protected in the Constitution," said Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, the committee's ranking Democrat.
But Republicans said the flag must be protected by law. "As tombstones are not for toppling, nor churches not for vandalizing, flags are not for burning," said committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.).
The amendment is scheduled to reach the House floor late this month, becoming the third attempt by the Republican majority in this Congress to amend the Constitution. The balanced-budget amendment passed the House but fell one vote short in the Senate, while an amendment limiting the terms of members of Congress failed in the House.